Former state rep, neighbors to settle Oregon City park trespass for $260K
Oregon City neighborhood representatives have long argued that citizens need to be held accountable when cutting down trees for no reason.
As the city's rules regarding trees recognize, it doesn't just affect the individual property owner but the entire city when trees are cut down unnecessarily.
"Planting a public/street tree can provide an abundance of benefits, not just environmental," touts a section of the city's website. But property owners often are allowed to get away with cutting down street trees without repercussions ("Howell's Restaurant flouts OC tree code," November 2016).
In an ongoing example, four street trees topped along Oregon City's John Adams Street in February 2016, and the city mandated that new street trees be planted with a minimum 2-inch caliper trunk measured 6 inches above the root crown. But two of the trees were never replanted in front of 805 John Adams St., and no one from the city noticed until a citizen made an OC Code Enforcement complaint in January 2018.
Code Enforcement on April 9 sent property owner Susan Strand a violation notice. On April 13, according to city records, Strand called Code Enforcement and said she would contact the Planning Department to develop a replanting plan.
On April 23, the planning department confirmed that the owner did not submit a street-tree replanting application. It wasn't until late May that Strand submitted a plan to replant the trees by Oct. 31, and she will not face Code Enforcement fines for the delays. OC Code allows for a $303 fine per removed tree but Code Enforcement officials have been reluctant to levy fines.
The property is the headquarters of Oregon City Charters, a boat-touring company owned by Darryl Carson Jones. A man answering Jones' phone hung up on a reporter twice when asked questions for this story.
The property was under investigation for a second Code Enforcement violation, for lacking a city business license. State records show a business called Oregon City Charters since 2013 with a "principal place of business" at 805 John Adams St. But OC Charters hadn't ever obtained a license to do business within Oregon City.
A citizen noticed that OC Charters hadn't obtained a business license and notified Code Enforcement officials in May. Code Enforcement visited the property and asked Jones not to park his boat in the street and obtain an $84 business license for 2018. It is unclear whether the city can do anything retroactively for the licenses he failed to get for 2013-17.
A more typical case of illegal tree cutting recently involved at property at 916 Washington St. Kari R. Freeman, who purchased the property in 2005, was sent a complaint notice on March 14, with instructions to contact the Planning Department by March 30. Freeman didn't contact the city by the deadline and was sent another letter, this time warning her of fines for noncompliance.
Freeman contacted the Planning Department and was given a May 30 deadline for replanting the three street trees. She was never fined for her noncompliance, a Code Enforcement official said, because "we don't want to fine anybody, we want them to do the right thing."
Built in 1896, Freeman's C.G. Huntley House is perhaps Oregon City's most iconic example of the Queen Anne architecture. An episode of "Route 66," which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964, starring Martin Milner and George Maharis as two young men who found trouble across America in their Corvette sportscar, was filmed at the house in 1962.
Freeman chose to replant the three removed hawthorns with ivory silk lilac trees.
"We going to have beautiful, white flowering trees instead of the nasty, 1-to-2-inch-long thorny branches," she said. "Those hawthorns weren't very nice, and they're no longer on the approved list of street trees. I didn't mean to remove them, but I apparently cut them too short."
These illegal tree-cutting cases came as the city prepared for a trial that will determine how much a former politician owes in damages for logging a public park.
Former state Rep. Ed Lindquist managed to avoid jail time after hiring someone to cut dozens of trees in Waterboard Park so he could have a better view of the Willamette River from his house on the bluff.
In exchange for pleading guilty to criminal mischief in 2016, Lindquist had to complete 80 hours of community service and 18 months of probation, which comes with a $100 bench-probation fee.
Lindquist's "tree guy" Terry Zearing served two weeks in jail for causing an estimated $237,400 in damage to Waterboard Park, but the city demanded more than $500,000 from the guilty parties. In addition to plants in the understory suffering from loss of shade, Oregon law allows for triple damages in cases of illegal tree cutting.
To prepare for the civil case against him, Lindquist contracted a competing arborist's report that estimated only $21,375 in damage. He implicated some of his own neighbors — Bradley and Gwyn Hanson, and Richard and Maureen Ingram — as couples who helped hire Zearing, and they all offered the city $100,000 on Dec. 15 to settle the case.
Oregon City officials rejected that offer, and the case had been set for a jury trial this summer. However, that trial was canceled after the city attorney and Lindquist's attorney came to a settlement agreement for $260,000 in damages to the city. The proposed settlement, if signed, will "not to be regarded as an admission by [the] defendants of any liability or fault." On June 20, the City Commission will consider approving the settlement amount. Then the defendants will have 30 days to pay the city.
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
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